“They said you can’t make a film like this”: Lizzie Borden on revolution, race, and radical action in”Born in Flames” [Audio]

Set in an alternate-reality socialist democratic United States, Lizzie Borden’s speculative fiction Born in Flames (1983) finds the country still plagued by social injustice. This feminist classic is a low-budget, grassroots production, documentary-like in its reflection of a long-gone grungy yet vibrant downtown New York City. Made at the height of the Reagan years, it tackles sexism, racism, and homophobia in its intertwining narratives about two rival pirate radio stations run by women, a trio of female investigative reporters, and a government that still feels threatened by difference.

In November 2018, Block Cinema welcomed filmmaker Lizzie Borden in person for a conversation about her work and the creation of this iconic cult film. Borden was introduced by Lauren Herold, a PhD candidate in Northwestern’s Screen Cultures program before a showing of a newly restored 35mm print from Anthology Film Archives. Borden then joined Nick Davis,  Associate Professor of English and Gender and Sexuality Studies for a conversation about her work.

“It’s hard to make an independent film, but it used to be even harder, and the element of difficulty—the sense of a movie wrenched from recalcitrant circumstances and pressed into being with the urgency of rage and the force of ideas—lends a special bracing pleasure to Lizzie Borden’s 1983 film “Born in Flames”

Richard Brody, “The Political Science Fiction of Born in Flames,” The New Yorker

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Born in Flames was co-presented by Block Cinema with the Northwestern Women’s Center as part of the film series: Women at the End of the World. Inspired by Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the novel selected for Northwestern’s 2018–2019 campus-wide One Book One Northwestern program, this series brought together cinematic visions of dystopia and apocalypse featuring women at their center. Like Atwood’s novel, these films all emerged in the mid-1980s, and all respond to the same political, ecological, and cultural anxieties that figure in The Handmaid’s Tale through their diverse voices and divergent approaches to narrative.


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